Thinking Ahead

with Warren Weertman

Date Posted: March, 13 2017

Some More Thoughts on Environmental Scanning and Extremes

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This year’s PurpleBeach Experience is about embracing extremes and last week I mentioned environmental scanning as a way of identifying the extremes within your environment. But how do you do environmental scanning? I’ll explore this in a bit more detail in today’s blog.

1. Environmental Scanning

You need to know where you are going to focus your attention on any relevant extremes. But how do you know what you should be focusing on?

Perhaps one of the most useful tools in the Future Studies toolkit is environmental scanning. While we cannot know what the future will look like exactly, we can develop an understanding of the factors that will shape the future.

Environmental scanning is about looking at the following environments:

- Economics
- Legal
- Politics / Institutional
- Resources
- Technological
- Social

These environments are diverse, but that is intentional as you’re trying to discern and understand how each of these environments will impact the future of your organisation.

How do you do environmental scanning? The goal with environmental scanning is to collect, read through and group articles that cover each of these environments with a view to identifying and understanding the factors that will shape the future.

The results of this process can then be compiled into an environmental scanning document. This document contains an extract of the essence of each document reviewed, as well as all the relevant bibliographical information. The bibliographical information is important as you may need to find the articles again (assuming you have not saved copies of the articles).

You can decide how the environmental scanning documents are shared within your organisation, but always bear in mind that the purpose of the process is to try develop foresight about the factors that will shape the future of your organisation and the greater environment in which it operates.

2. Organising Information

While your environmental scanning document is an important resource in sharing your insights within an organisation, you also need to consider how you store the baseline articles, if at all. If you are going to store copies of articles, you will need to develop a system of recording what documents you have.

For over 10 years now, I have been keeping a spreadsheet of interesting articles (nearly 4,500) that I have found while browsing the Internet. What is important about this spreadsheet is the meta information I store about each article. In particular, I store information such as the name of the article, the name of the author, the date I found the article and the website where I found the article.

I also classify the article according to three subject areas. The aim of using these three criteria is to be able to find articles by various themes that I am focusing on. But by applying three criteria to classify each article, it allows me to trace the development of various themes and trends that I focus on. This allows me to see how certain trends have been developing over time and gives me some ideas for how a trend may develop in the future.

We will never know exactly what the future will look like. But by using tools, such as environmental scanning, we are proactively developing foresight and understanding of how the environments that affect your organisation may develop in the future.

Thought from the Lifeguard’s Hut

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?
- John Maynard Keynes


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